Thailand’s tourist industry has taken a modest step toward reviving its coronavirus-battered fortunes by welcoming 39 visitors who flew in from Shanghai, the first such arrivals since regular travellers were banned almost seven months ago.
The visitors who arrived at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport are pioneers in a “Special Tourist Visa” programme devised by Thai authorities to restore step by step a sector of the economy that welcomed almost 40 million foreign visitors last year and by some estimates accounts for more than 10 per cent of the country’s GDP.
China was a natural choice for restarting tourism. Thailand was one of the top overseas destinations for Chinese tourists in 2019, when they accounted for by far the largest number of visitors to Thailand by nationality. Just as crucial is that China has largely contained the virus domestically, in sharp contrast to other countries.
Thailand has had only a handful of domestic cases since June, and China’s few local outbreaks have dissipated quickly after authorities took steps such as testing entire cities and quarantining communities with potential exposure.